Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fuzzy Wuzzy

Most of us have learned the poem or tongue-twister or whatever it is about Fuzzy Wuzzy.[1] The thing is, most of you have learned the lame version. That's right, your version is probably the mediocre one. And here's how you probably think it goes:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear;
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?
Here's the superior version that I learned:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
A bear was Fuzzy Wuzzy.
When Fuzzy Wuzzy lost his hair,
He wasn't fuzzy was he?
Allow me to detail why the version I learned is superior (it's not simply personal preference). First, consider the rhyming scheme. The first version is a-a-b. It's not even a complete rhyme! The second version is a-b-a-b. It has all four lines and there is a complete rhyming scheme.

Second, consider the meter.[2] The first version is rendered thus:
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘
It is roughly iambic with a line length of 3½-3½-6. But the first two lines end with a stressed syllable only to start the next line with another stressed syllable.[3] Now that's just awkward.

The second version is rendered thus:
  ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘
It aligns much more closely with the easy, natural flow of an iambic meter. It has a line length of 3½-3½-4-3½. The only real awkward point comes where the second line ends with an unstressed syllable only to have the third line start with an unstressed syllable.[4]

Finally let us consider other poetic elements.[5] The first uses a device called parallelism, in which all three lines start out the same ("Fuzzy Wuzzy…").The second takes this a step further. The first two lines become an antimetabole, where the first line is repeated backwards in the second.[6] Then the third and fourth lines exhibit parellelism with the first and second lines.

So, as you can see, the first version of the poem or tongue-twister or whatever it is, is outclassed in every way by the second version. Also, what's with the line "he wasn't very fuzzy was he?"? No, he wasn't fuzzy at all. He had no hair. So the word very there is superfluous. Take it from me, you're better off forgetting that that first version ever existed.


[1] I'll admit that I used to conflate Fuzzy Wuzzy with the muppet named Fozzie.

[2] I will use the macron (¯) and breve (˘) notation where the macron indicates a stressed syllable and the breve indicates an unstressed syllable.

[3] A metric foot with two stressed syllables (¯ ¯) is called a spondee, but this isn't really a spondee since the two syllables occur on separate lines of the poem. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_(prosody).

[4] A metric food with two unstressed syllables (˘ ˘) is called a pyrrhus or dibrach, but this isn't really a  pyrrhus or dibrach since the two syllables occur on separate lines of the poem. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_(prosody).

[5] Since they're both essentially the same with regard to assonance and consonance, I don't address those here.

[6] This is similar, but not identical to a chiasmus.

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